The Necessity of Repentance
Since repentance is a decisive human decision to return from wrongdoing, to keep away from evil and depravity and to return to the life of uprightness and obedience, and since its practical consequences are serious in man's life and his destination, repentance is an obligatory duty for every disobedient, criminal and deviated one on the basis of reason and the understanding of the danger of wrongdoing and the harm of deviation and crime.
Both deviation and wrongdoing are dangerous for the life of mankind and cause harm to its benefits of social life; the transgression of the guilty and the criminals against the life system, the exceeding the principles of morals and right behaviour, the threatening the security of mankind and their living and exposing its life to danger.
Through deviation and disobedience man exposes himself to Allah's wrath and, thus, he sells his happiness for pain and torment and ends his life with a sorrowful and dreadful.
Therefore, the disobedient one not only loses both the present life and the hereafter but also causes harm both to himself and to others.
No wise man desires such a disastrous result to occur to himself or is pleased with it, without striving to refuse and change it.
That is why repentance is obligatory for every Muslim and every human on the basis of reason and the comprehension of human interests.
The judgement of the reason for the necessity of repentance coincides with the laws of the Divine Religions, altogether. It purifies man from sins, liberates him from the mazes of deviation and evil and calls him to a life of purity and righteousness. Starting from the principles, Islam considers repentance among its main pillars and a decisive step towards the way of salvation and guidance for the whole of mankind.
Thus, the Holy Qur'an and the Prophet's traditions (Sunnah) focuses on the necessity of repentance and the return to Allah, opening a new page in man's record; turning away from the detestable past which is full of rebellious deeds, and which blackens the clear pages by guilty acts and corrupted the beautiful life with the stamp of shame.
So the Holy Qur'an has always taken a firm stance against the disobedient and declared its forgiveness by opening the door of Divine repentance and forgiveness to them. Thus, the Holy Qur'an addresses them:
“... and turn to Allah all of you, O believers, so that you may be successful.” (Holy Qur’an, 24:31)
“... He brought you forth from the earth and made you dwell in it, so ask forgiveness of Him, then turn to Him. Surely my Lord is Nigh, Answering.” (Holy Qur’an, 11:61)
“O you who believe, turn to Allah with sincere repentance ...” (Holy Qur’an, 66:8)
Consequently, it becomes man's duty to respond to this Divine call and make use of this unique opportunity before the Day of Regret and Remorse in which man will say: “... O woe is me, that I fell short of my duty to Allah; and surely I was of those who laughed to scorn.” (Holy Qur’an, 39:56)“... O woe is me, that I fell short of my duty to Allah; and surely I was of those who laughed to scorn.” (Holy Qur’an, 39:56)
Elements of Repentance
Repentance is a turning point of behaviour, an ideological alternation and a change which occurs in the life of an individual or a group. Thus it cannot be achieved in the life of an individual unless other main elements are obtained. Among them are:
Man, in order to distinguish his diverse behavioral positions and coincide with them, evaluate them and give final decisions upon them and choose what should be chosen, should know its truth and have full ideological lucidity through which he can differentiate between what is right and what is wrong or what is good and what is bad and, also, differentiate between righteousness and deviation and recognize between good and evil. The ignorant man cannot achieve this condition as long as the way is not clear and right to him.
Both knowledge and consciousness are the right ways which lead him towards the Almighty Allah. They are the ideological means by which man is directed to the right path and the guide towards the welfare of humanity and its perfection. They are both two guides which save him against the pit of collapse and the labyrinths of deviation. As long as this condition is not achieved, repentance can never occur.
Thus, it becomes obligatory for everyone to bid what is right and forbid what is wrong and, also, teach the ignorant in order repentance complete all its necessities and nullify all the excuses, under which the disobedient or criminals, may hide themselves.
For the same purpose, it is obligatory for man to learn every necessity of faith and the obligations upon which his guidance and destination depend; and, also to ensure the relation between faith, guidance and knowledge.
On the one side, the Holy Qur'an condemns ignorance; on the other, it praises knowledge and learning. In various places, it makes a connection between ignorance, misguidance and deviation.
The Almighty Allah says: “They said: Have you come to us to turn us away from our gods? Then bring us that with which you threaten us, if you are truthful. He said: The knowledge is only with Allah, and I deliver to you that wherewith I am sent, but I see you are an ignorant people.” (Holy Qur’an, 46:22-23)
As the above mentioned verse refers to both ignorance and deviation, it, also, refers to both knowledge and faith.
Allah, the Most High, says: “And those who were given the knowledge said: Woe to you! Allah's reward is better for him who believes and does good, and none is made to receive this except the patient.” (Holy Qur’an, 28:80)
“... those of His servants only who are possessed of knowledge fear Allah ...” (Holy Qur’an, 35:28)
Surely knowledge is the source of every psychological and ideological motivation which man holds in the way of repentance:
• Through knowledge, he realizes how to fear of Allah.
• Through knowledge, it creates in him the feeling of hope and desire to meet Allah.
• Through knowledge, the light of the loving Allah shines in him.
• Through knowledge, his conscience is awakened and to him returns his consciousness.
2. Feeling one sinned (caution of conscience)
When the truth of an action is discovered by man and his outer truth is distinguished before his consciousness and pure inner feelings, he starts to understand in truth and, thus, a balanced action is to be found in him between what he owns of good human values and his bitter and painful reality, and his responsibility of its bad role will be explained in its truth. Thus, the embers of refusal and disgust will be gathered in him and the attitude of refusal and protest will grow in him, thus, transformed into a psychological conflict of bitter conscious remorse as a first means to impose punishment upon himself.
Then, the fires of consciousness will rise till he puts it under his control and becomes victorious because, man, in his inborn nature dislikes deficiency and tries to get rid of it; and always strives for self-perfection and wishes to reach for it by different ways and means.
Man through his ignorance, yields to various unreal factors in which he tries to satisfy his psychological inclinations through deviated ways, but, soon this deviated inclination will be disclosed to him through consciousness and knowledge. Thus, he regrets his evil deeds and tries to separate himself from his crimes and get rid of the impacts of his deviation, for he realizes that what is done by him (of crimes and sins) does not fit with true human existence.
When this regret begins; he starts to feel pain for his evil deeds and his desire to remove this deviated existence, which takes its role as a new force towards change and repentance, moves him to separate from the disliked past in order to make another existence for himself which suits his good human form.
Strong will is an important and active element in the process of repentance, because it is the power which limits the situation; takes a decision after achieving the right conclusion and ideological lucidity, which are provided by knowledge. It is an axis on which one takes action in the process of a psychological and ideological revolution.
If one ventures towards repentance, particularly when one faces psychological conflict, and tries to destroy this behavioral abnormality, taking the direction to Allah; the disobedient and criminal, while are involved in such odd connections with the motives of deviation, need a determination and firm will which enables them to cut off this relation and change their self-direction towards the right path. Without such a will and sincere determination, it is impossible for a man to change from disobedience to obedience. Both sincere determination and firm will are among the psychological starting points for man to take a decision and specify his behavioral position.
How beautifully Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.) describes the role of a firm will and its importance in man's life: “A man never gets weak if he is strengthened with a firm intention (will).”
Consequently, firm will is a power capable of changing a man's route and, also, correcting his direction in life.Consequently, firm will is a power capable of changing a man's route and, also, correcting his direction in life.
In order to achieve repentance, express his sincerity in return towards Allah, man should change his repentance into action and achieve his remoteness against his evil deeds; make for the better in himself; and prove his true love for Allah by fearing Him in all his decisions and actions. To achieve these, he should have:
First: Regret: It means that the repentant feels pain and sorrow about his past sins and have an urgent psychological desire to avoid them and fill the gaps resulting from his previous behavioral attitudes which become odious and disliked.
Second: To give up sins and evil deeds which he used to practise, in the past, and promises himself not to return to them again, i.e., by eradicating the impact of a deviated, psychological impulse which prevented him from expressing himself in any other way.
Third: To avoid what can be avoided of his sinful acts and fulfill what can be fulfilled of them. For instance, if he stole or transgressed against others or did an evil to others by oppressing them, it is obligatory for him either to give back what he stole to their rightful owners or to make an apology for his evils and compensate what can be compensated for the oppressed and the transgressed ... etc.
It is, also, obligatory for him to perform every neglected duty in case of being able to do so, at the time; such as, praying, fasting, pilgrimage (hajj) and filial devotion to parents..., otherwise his repentance is meaningless and there is no achievement in the realms of actions and intentions.
How delicately Imam Ali (a.s.) explains the concept of repentance. Once someone said before him: 'astaghfirullah' (I ask Allah's forgiveness), then Imam Ali (a.s.) said: “Your mother may lose you! Do you know what 'istighfar'(asking Allah's forgiveness) is? 'Astighfar' is meant for people of a high position. It is a word that stands on six meanings.
1. To repent over the past.
2. To make a firm determination never to revert to it.
3. To discharge all the rights of the people so that you may meet Allah quite clean with nothing to account for.
4. To fulfil every obligatory which you ignored (in the past) so that you may now do justice with it.
5. To aim at the flesh grown as a result of unlawful earning, so that you may melt it by grief (of repentance) till the skin touches the bone and a new flesh grows between them.
6. To make the body taste the pain of obedience as you (previously) made it taste the sweetness of disobedience. On such occasion you may say: 'astaghfirullah' 1
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds.
1. Muhammad Mehdi Al-Naraqi, Jami' al-Sa'adat (The Collector of Felicities), vol. 3, p. 78